Learning From “The Puzzlers”


I don’t know about you, but I always thought those who had a particular affinity for and were highly-skilled at putting together complex jigsaw puzzles were a little strange.  You know the folks I’m talking about – the ones who can dump out a pile of 10,000 tiny misshapen pieces of cardboard that all look basically the same on a table one day and two weeks later be proudly hanging a beautifully-shellacked finished version of the puzzle on their living room wall like it’s a piece of art!  In retrospect, however, I should have been envious of “The Puzzlers,” because, perhaps even unbeknownst to them, while I and the rest of my friends were spending Friday nights in bars and beautiful Saturday afternoons at the beach and on the golf course, they were hunched over a puzzle at home, busy honing a skill set that, once mastered, would significantly increase the likelihood that they would live  a healthy, happy and fulfilling life:

a.  Puzzlers keep a “picture” of what they want the finished product to look like in the forefront of their mind at all times.  One of the first things any Puzzler worth their salt does, before even starting to put a puzzle together, is carefully study the image on the outside of the box.  In fact, many choose the puzzle because the image appeals to them either aesthetically, thematically or in its seeming complexity.  Ask them and they will tell you that it is imperative that they have a clear picture of their goal in mind before they start the often tedious process of putting the puzzle together and that they keep that image in front of them at all times.

b.  Puzzlers are not intimidated by the number of pieces that need to be put in place or the apparent complexity of the task. Too often in life we become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks on our plate at a particular moment in time.  Viewed collectively, the tasks are intimidating to the point of paralyzing us. The Puzzler understands that the completion of the puzzle begins by putting the first piece in place and proceeding one piece at a time until the ultimate goal is achieved. At times, the process is slow, frustrating and painstaking.  Sometimes, for no apparent reason, several pieces fall into place in quick succession.  Eventually, however, each piece finds its home.

c.  Puzzlers understand how critical it is to first establish a strong foundation and well-defined boundaries.  Watch most Puzzlers ply their craft and, almost without exception, you will notice that they begin ensuring that the pieces that ultimately will form the borders of the puzzle are put in place first.  Even though the task is among the hardest aspects of completing the puzzle (mainly because the pieces used to form the boundaries all look the same), Puzzlers recognize that a strong foundation and well-defined boundaries are an essential first step to the eventual completion of the puzzle.

d.  Puzzlers know that all of the pieces of the puzzle are equally essential to the whole. Puzzlers understand a simple truth that we too often lose sight of as human beings:  Each piece of the puzzle has its place and each is an indispensable part of what ultimately will be the finished product.  Stated otherwise, no one piece of a puzzle is more or less important than the one that preceded it or the one that will follow it.  Too often, in life, we tend to give great weight to discreet events – usually negative ones – and, in doing so, vest them with more power over us than they deserve.  The next time you’re inclined to do that remember: Whatever it is, it’s just one piece among the millions of pieces that make you who you are!

e.  Puzzlers make wise choices, but remain flexible and ready to make others, if necessary.  As a rule, Puzzlers don’t like to dally. They identify a need, double check the goal, scour the landscape of available pieces in search of one that their instincts suggest will be a perfect fit and give every side of the piece they select an opportunity to fill that need.  If it does, they relish the moment and move on.  If it doesn’t, they simply make another choice, knowing that, eventually, they’ll get it right.  And so it should be with the puzzles of our lives: We should strive to make wise decisions, based on the best information available (and our instincts); give those choices every reasonable chance to succeed, but remain flexible and ready to repeat the process if necessary.

f.  Puzzlers appreciate the power of patience.  Enough said!


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